From Hunger to Overweight in One Lifetime

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report reveals that global and national eating patterns hide significant inequalities within countries and populations.

Last June, the latest 2020 Global Nutrition Report was released, a document that presents the changes that need to be made to our food systems to improve nutrition, health, and food safety. A review is carried out and recommendations are made, such as a more varied production of food and the reformulation of products to make them healthier, in order to improve the state of nutrition on a global scale.

Alejandro Monzó – Neolife Nutrition and Nursing Unit

The number of people who suffer hunger is shrinking, and the number of people who are overweight is increasing at an alarming rate.

Overweight and obesity are defined as an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can be harmful to an individual’s health (1). The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple indicator of the ratio of weight to height used to identify overweight and obesity in adults (2). However, it differs from the study of total body composition, which requires a more thorough analysis with anthropometric techniques and tools, such as those available at Neolife. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 1.9 billion adults were overweight, of which over 650 million were obese. Globally, they are linked to a higher number of deaths than underweight (1).

As the world’s leading report on the state of global nutrition (Figure 1.), it examines the critical role of addressing inequality in ending malnutrition in all its forms (3). Inequality is a cause of malnutrition, both malnutrition and overweight, obesity, and other chronic diseases linked to poor diets. The need for more equitable and sustainable food and health systems has never been more urgent. This report highlights the need to integrate nutrition into universal health care as an essential prerequisite for improving diets, saving lives, and reducing health care spending. Reversing the obesity epidemic would also reduce the burden on health systems, as it is one of the most expensive health conditions.

The common consequences of overweight and obesity on health are diverse. Studies show that a high BMI is an important risk factor for chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as the following (1,2):

  • Cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially osteoarthritis
  • Some types of cancer, like breast, prostate, colon, endometrial, liver, gallbladder, ovarian, and kidney

Today, many low and middle-income countries are facing a so-called “double burden” of morbidity. The Global Nutrition Report presented in 2020 shows that while these countries continue to address the problems of infectious diseases and malnutrition, they are also experiencing a rapid increase in risk factors for noncommunicable diseases, such as obesity and overweight, especially in urban settings (3). Therefore, the authors point out that it is not uncommon to find malnutrition and obesity coexisting in the same country, the same community, and the same home.

Moreover, the authors emphasize that inequality is no longer seen in terms of access to food, but also in terms of access to a varied diet. The same person could be malnourished and, years later, obese. The report presents the case of people who did not receive the necessary nutrients in their early years, or even cases where their mothers did not ingest such nutrients during pregnancy, who later did not have access to healthy eating, but rather to industrial and ultra-processed foods or a rather unbalanced diet (3, 4).

The report states that ultra-processed foods are more readily available, cheaper, and have more intensive marketing. A study published by Foodwatch Netherlands reveals that 70% of the food products we can find in a supermarket are ultra-processed foods. The authors call for a change in legislation, where fresh and perishable foods are more present, as they can significantly improve diets and, consequently, health (3, 5).

Poor diets are not only the result of a personal choice when selecting food items, but also involves composition, something that the food industry is responsible for. The report therefore calls for this industry to adopt appropriate regulations, reformulate its products to make them healthier, use quality raw materials and, finally, provide truthful and transparent information through labelling,and displaying all the ingredients contained in the products they produce (3).

On food composition, the document notes that current agricultural systems focus on the production of commodities such as wheat, rice, or maize. However, others like palm oil, peanuts, sugar beet, sugar cane, soybeans, sunflowers, or tubers account for 72% of crops worldwide. This situation concerns experts, who point to the need for a wide range of healthy and sustainable foods, further diversified into fruits, legumes, and vegetables (3).

Melatonin at high doses protects against cancer
Figure 1. 2020 Global Nutrition Report Infographic (6).

It is worth noting the message issued by the expert panel responsible for the report. If appropriate measures are not taken, the problems associated with poor nutrition will be exacerbated, particularly affecting the most vulnerable populations and making them more susceptible to different health problems. The authors conclude by recalling that good nutrition is an appropriate and effective strategy that can protect people from disease and epidemics, relieves the burden on the health system, reduces health care spending, and saves lives (3, 4). For this reason, in countries where legislation is more lax and there are fewer controls, governments need to become more involved and establish more quality controls.

Here at Neolife, we wish to convey the important role that nutrition has in human health. Unfortunately, the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and malnutrition is increasing on a global scale, leading to the need for healthy lifestyle habits. Governments must ensure sustainable and safe food policies, prioritizing people’s health condition in order to prevent future diseases that may threaten health systems.

Nutritional education and the adoption of healthy eating habits are fundamental pillars of our comprehensive health program. September is a good month to resume and bring back healthy lifestyle habits (often neglected in the summer months), take charge of our health, and opt for healthy food choices. For this reason, the Neolife team has worked and continues to work on improving services in the nutrition department. We have recently released new monitoring programs and nutritional bonuses with the aim of improving nutrition habits, body composition, and health. For more information, do not hesitate to contact our Medical Assistant in person, by phone, or by e-mail.


(1) (2020). “Obesity and overweight”. World Health Organization.


(2) De Luis Román, D.A. Bellido Guerrero, D. García Luna, P.P. Olivera Fuster, G. (2017). “Dietoterapia, nutrición clínica y metabolismo” [Diet therapy, clinical nutrition, and metabolism]. Third edition. Sociedad Española de Endocrinología y Nutrición. Grupo Aula Médica, S.L. Madrid, Spain.

(3) 2020 Global Nutrition Report: Action on equity to end malnutrition. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives.


(4) (2020). “Del hambre al sobrepeso en una misma vida: el nuevo panorama de la nutrición” [From hunger to overweight within the same lifetime: the new nutrition landscape].


(5) (2017). “70% of supermarkets sell controversial ultra-processed foods”. Food Watch.


(6) 2020 Global Nutrition Report: Action on equity to end malnutrition. Executive summary. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives.